Study: Gas wells leave people ‘vulnerable’ to health hazards

September 24, 2013
A Marcellus Shale gas well being drilled in Mt. Pleasant Township in 2012 - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

All is not well near gas well sites in Pennsylvania, according to a study conducted by a statewide environmental group.

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center released the results Tuesday, including the finding that drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas frequently occur within close proximity of groups of people it categorizes as “vulnerable” to potential health hazards.

The center is the research arm of Penn Environment, which calls itself an “environmental organization that works for clean air, clean water and open spaces.”

The report, titled “The Spreading Shadow of the Shale Gas Boom: Fracking’s Growing Proximity to Day Cares, Schools and Hospitals,” said 462 day care centers, 446 schools and 15 hospitals are located two miles or less from a permitted fracking well site in Pennsylvania.

“We are putting vulnerable populations, particularly children, in the red zone,” Raina Rippel said in a news release. She is the director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, based in Peters Township.

“Given known asthma rates in Pennsylvania,” Rippel continued, “the proximity of gas drilling industrial activities to care facilities and schools, and the known health impacts of pollution such as diesel emissions, we know these vulnerable populations are at risk.”

Fracking and drilling are commonplace in Washington and Greene counties, where natural gas is abundant in the Marcellus Shale fields. The industry maintains that drilling and fracking are done safely. Travis Windle, spokesman for the pro-industry Marcellus Shale Coalition, said he did not see the report, but has concerns about the PennEnvironment organization. He cited a report in the Patriot-News of Harrisburg saying PennEnvironment published reports accompanied by photos that were misleading and did not depict what actually took place.

The Observer-Reporter could not reach Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Range Resources, or Lynn Seay, director of media relations for Consol Energy Inc., for comment.

John Pippy, chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, was contacted while on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but said he hadn’t seen the report and didn’t “feel comfortable commenting.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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